Travel & Tasting Notes From A Couple of Wine Lovers

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Plonk Plonk Fizz Fizz

Summer and wine go together like, well, winter and wine, or spring and wine. Wine is a treat for all seasons. But in the summer, even serious $30+ a bottle wine lovers can warm up to a $10 Catalan Garnaxta or an $8 Portuguese Vinho Verde. it’s warm. It’s sunny. And after 2 glasses, even $8 plonk tastes yummy. What’s plonk? Often derided as “cheap wine” and “crappy wine,” VinoDuo likes to think of plonk as cheap wine that’s worth trying and savoring. To help readers separate the junk from the jewels, we’ve tested 10 wines—and recommend five—that sell for $12 or less and are readily available at your local wine shop.

And for our readers under 50, Plonk Plonk Fizz Fizz is a play on a famous Alka-Seltzer commercial: Plop Plop Fizz Fizz, Oh What a Relief It Is. We can’t guarantee you’ll like this plonk, but after a long day at work, we do guarantee relief in every glass.

First Up, Plonk [whites]

We tasted three wines and recommend two–Le Jardin d’Etoile Sauvignon Blanc 2015 and Ponte Vinho Verde ‘Branco’ 2016.





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Yes, Bad Wines are Bad. But Cheap Good Wine is Good.

VinoDuo is all about drinking good wine that doesn’t cost a lot of money (vs. bad wine that doesn’t cost a lot of money.) Love Eric Asimov’s column but stay tuned for VinoDuo’s Plonk Plonk Fizz Fizz series on $10 wine you can drink with pleasure and serve with pride.





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Wente’s Not-Quite-Napa Cab a Great Value

The Livermore Valley wine region of Northern California could be deemed the Anti-Napa, with its less than pristine wineries, few luxury B+B’s and minimal foodie culture. What the Valley does have, however, is a low-key vibe, family-owned wineries and one big-name draw–Wente Vineyards. Founded in 1883 and now run by 4th and 5th generation family winemakers, Wente produces more than 800,000 cases a year, dwarfing all other Livermore Valley producers combined.

VinoDuo has visited Wente twice, most recently a year ago March. We flipped for the 2012 Sonata, a Syrah-Cab Franc blend and the 2013 Serenity, a deep, complex wine made from Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise grapes. Sonata and Serenity are “small lot” labels, with prices in the $50-$60 range. That’s a bit out of the VinoDuo buying budget so we recently purchased Wente’s Charles Wetmore 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25/bottle) to try out on some Napa Cab-loving friends. The wine is 77% Cabernet Sauvignon with small contributions of Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Merlot.



Gary, Ron and Raul Taste the Wente Cab


The nose served up an interesting combo of tobacco and florals, with sumptuous flavors of plum and cherry. Our friend the Napa Snob loved it at first taste but thought it died on the finish, while Gary agreed with the winery’s tasting notes that it had a “long smooth finish.”  The bottle disappeared very quickly as it paired nicely with the homemade grilled steak and chicken fajitas. For $25, the 2013 Charles Wetmore Cab is a strong contender for a great weekend wine value. If you see it on a local wine list, don’t hesitate to order it.

The Wente Charles Wetmore 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $25 and is available throughout the US.


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2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione at Home and Away

Gary is the Italian red wine lover of the Duo. Amarone, Barbara d’Alba, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Barolo take up a lot of room in our wine cellar/crawlspace, and with good reason. Gary is also an expert pizza chef and eggplant parm maker, and there’s nothing better than drinking lusty Italian wine with home-cooked specialties.P34977B

Barolo is a particular favorite; one of two great wines made from the Nebbiolo grape in the Piedmont region [the the other is Barbaresco.] We bought a few bottles of the 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione last year after sampling the 2009 at the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival. While the 2011 ages in our basement, we enjoyed a sneak preview of that vintage at our favorite Italian restaurant La Campania in Waltham, Mass.

We ordered a 1/2 bottle of the 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione to pair with the world’s best veal chop and beef tenderloin. We recall a medium nose with some cedar, tar, and barnyard and luscious flavors with notes of intense dried cherry, plum pudding. The wine is rich, full-bodied and well-balanced with pronounced-but-tame tannins.

Understanding that 1/2 bottles age a bit more quickly [something about physics and oxygen, Gary told Lisa] we plan on cracking open the full bottle of the 2011 next year.

The 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione retails for about $50.

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Vida Longa Vinho Verde

The Vinho Verde region of Portugal has been producing wine for 2,000+ years. VinoDuo has been drinking Vinho Verde wine for three years, and we wonder how we ever got through a summer without it. “Verde” translates to green, but in this case it refers to a young wine, released just 3 to 6 months after harvest. Light, fresh, with a slight frizzante to tickle your palate, Vinho Verde is versatile–great sipping on its own and a wonderful companion to lighter meals. Oh, we’ve never paid more than $10 for a bottle. And 188.jpgwe’ve never tasted a bad one…although we continually do research to find a loser!

Our current fave is Ponte Branco Vinho Verde 2015. Made from Loureiro and Trajadura grapes, it’s a light straw-colored gem, crisp and lively, with hints of citrus. Polished off in under an hour with manchego cheese and a willing friend, the Ponte Branco has earned a place in the summer deck wine rotation.

 Sells for $8-12 retail.

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Eastern Europe Lands in Boston

Note: Following is a favorite post from 2014.

Eastern European blood runs through both members of VinoDuo’s veins, though it’s more Jewish shtetl than rolling vineyards. So when Lisa saw that a handful of winemakers from the old country were exhibiting at the Boston Wine Expo 2014, she made a beeline for their tables and never left. Nothing like discovering an entirely new wine region to make a blogger grin, purple tongue and all.

First stop was Georgia, in the Caucasus region. Apparently Georgia is the Old, Old World wine region, calling itself the first wine producing country in the world. With 7,000 years of winemaking history, the Georgians have had plenty of time to hone their craft. And despite agricultural and geopolitical catastrophes in the recent past, the wine presented by Khareba Winery was, on the whole delightful. But with no U.S. distributor, Khareba’s wines aren’t yet available stateside. If you want to sip Lisa’s favorites, you’ll have to go to Tbilisi.

monastery-krakhunaKhareba produces its 20+ wines in two distinct geographic regions—Kakheti in the East and Imereti in the West—using both ancient and modern winemaking styles. The traditional Georgian method of winemaking uses a qvevri, a large, egg-shaped clay vessel lined with beeswax and buried in the ground, for fermentation, maceration and storage of wine. These skin-fermented white wines have become something of a fad in U.S. winebars, where they’re marketed as “orange wines.” In Georgia, they’re just called “wine.”

What to Drink
Lisa sampled a mish-mash of Khareba wines from the East and West, using the ancient method and the modern European style. Her favorites crossed geography, methodology, and grape.


  • Krakhuna Monastary Wine – a dry white wine from the Western region; fermented and aged for 8 months in Amphora (Qvevri) with 5% of its skins. Far from being “orange” the Krakhuna (name of the grape) produced in the West of the country is a delicate light color, with a lovely floral nose and limestone on the palate. Full-bodied and bone dry, sedate; not a sipping wine.
  • Krakhuna 2013 – Same grape, same region, different method (stainless tanks). Totally different profile. Pale and dry but a lively palate, nice citrus tones. A great “deck wine.”
  • Rkatsiteli 2013 – From the East comes this wine in production since 1892. Made in the European style the Rkatsiteli (grape name) was light, almost transparent but full of flavor. Floral nose and dry as a bone. Great with fish. Interestingly, the Rkatsiteli Monastary 2011 made in the qvevri style was bitter, with less flavor.


  • Saperavi 2011 – A dry red wine from the East, the Saperavi (grape name) was a beautiful deep cherry color and bursting with red fruit aromas.
  • Saperavi Chateau Marko 2010 – Billed by Khareba’s rep as “Stalin’s favorite wine” [note to Khareba marketers: Stalin is not a come-on in the USA] the Chateau Marko is made in the European style, with both aged (20% in French oak) and un-aged grapes. Dry and smooth, with good balance. I’d serve it with a lamb stew if Stalin were coming for dinner.

While not exactly part of our Zaydes’ “old country,” Slovenia is in Eastern Europe—and a winemaking country on the move. Independent since the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, and Croatia to the south. Slovenian lore claims that winemaking began there in the 4th century BC and it was Slovenians…not Georgians…who first made wine. Let them duke it out. At least they’re fighting about wine, not religion.

At the Boston Wine Expo, a delightful rep. from Laureate Imports Co., a Georgia- (not Georgian) based importer, presented two Slovenian brands, Avia and Colliano. Both wineries are situated in Goriska Brda, the western-most wine region bordering Italy, and share Italy’s topography and Mediterranean climate. Avia and Colliano are both value-priced wines, with no bottle priced above $15 and many coming in under $7 on US shelves.

What to Drink
B22895White wine dominates Slovenian production. Lisa sampled two each from Colliano and Avia and found them all too sweet for her taste. If your palate favors sweet, here are two pleasing wines to try.

  • Avia Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Light, pale color that looks like a Sauvignon Blanc but tasted more like an unoaked Chardonnay.  $6/bottle   Note: The 2011 is still available for $9; the 2012 is $6…going down?
  • Colliano Ribolla Gialla – Grape is native to the Italy/Slovenia border region; light golden color, citrus and soft fruit on the palate. Might be a fun deck wine on a hot summer day.   $14/bottle

VERUS_Steklenice_slovenske_SIPON.pngSlovenia Footnote
We just picked up a bottle of Verus Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Light, almost fizzy wine with a hint of citrus and some stone fruit. Good minerality (if you like minerality, which Lisa does and Gary doesn’t.) Far more interesting than the Avia SB and, at $14, worth the doubling of price.